Ghost Opera: Mechanics In Brief

May 1, 2010

Here’s a summary of how the game works. It’s basically a diceless, deterministic resolution system hacked together from a lot of other cool games plus some random ideas that struck me this week. I dedicate it to Sage, who was somewhat skeptical about deterministic resolution.

BASIC RESOLUTION

To make a normal move, you say what your character thinks, feels, says, or does. Then the GM says how other people and spirits respond.

To press your advantage against someone, tell the GM that:
– you are better at this
– you believe more fiercely
– you have a cleverer plan
– maybe some other stuff?

The GM may say, “Oh yeah? Tell me about it…” or “Really? Are you sure?” But you ultimately get to decide.

When you press your advantage, the other party has to choose between these options:
– succumb to you
– resist, at great cost to themselves
– defy all fairness and disrupt the Order

If multiple people press their advantage at the same time, you have to choose multiple options (duh) and you can’t choose the same one twice. (So, like Dogs, three-in-authority wins every time).

If you, the player, need information about the setting or the world or advice on how to handle a certain issue, the GM should say, “Who do you want to ask?” Then you pick any NPC in the setting that your character has previously been in contact with and asks them that question, in character, as if remembering a conversation had with the NPC in the past. The GM should answer the question in character as well. The answer may not necessarily be the exact truth, but it’s what the character has learned from others.

INVOKING BLOOD

Each character has a nature that’s determined by blood, based on their ancestry. For example, the people who serve the Mulberry Throne descend from the ten Corvid Suns who light up the sky and consequently have Raven Nature, which is focused on thievery, scavenging, and morbid curiosity. (Hey, it’s Mouse Guard).

Generally, you can’t use your blood to press your advantage, but the GM can invoke it as a temptation or compulsion (hey, it’s SOTC) or, in other cases, you can use someone else’s blood to tempt them. In either case, it works very much like pressing your advantage, with the victim deciding between:
– succumbing to their desires
– resisting, at great cost to themselves
– defying their blood and taking a point of stress

The number of blood stress that a character accumulates makes them vulnerable to the GM’s meddling, in the following fashion:
– 1 stress: distractions
– 2 stress: fever dreams
– 3 stress: physical signs (like sprouting feathers and claws)
– 4 stress: uncontrollable urges
– 5 stress: obsession

The GM keeps track of the desires you are denying and torments you with them according to your level of stress. But the GM always asks you, for example, “So which of these past desires are you having fever dreams about? Or is it something else entirely?”

If a character ever gains more that 5 blood stress, they have managed to transcend their animal urges, loose all their body hair, feathers, and other animal traits, and become like the spirits themselves, an embodiment of Heaven’s will and the Order. They no longer have a blood nature.

INVOKING THE ORDER

The natural Order of things works similarly to blood natures, but it exists outside characters, being the nature of the universe. Disruptions in the Order form the core of the game, which the characters attempt to resolve (similar to the way that pride creates problems in Dogs) while hopefully not creating too many additional disruptions to the Order in the process.

The Order consists of a series of hierarchical relationships where both parties are expected to act honorably, but the lower party must submit to the higher:
• ancestors before the living,
• old before young,
• men before women,
• spirits before mortals,
• royalty before nobles (adopted royalty),
• nobles before the common people,
• masters before their servants;
• creditors before debtors;
• guests before hosts;
• shamans before non-shamans,
• warriors before non-warriors, and
• people before animals and non-people (including crow-people and eunuchs).

Anybody can invoke the order to push for submission by parties lower down the hierarchy. In situations where there are multiple overlapping relationships making the actual heirarchy confusing (a female shaman invokes her authority over a male warrior), the GM can declare that the Order isn’t taking sides or let both parties take turns invoking the Order on each other.

If someone invokes the Order against you, you must decide:
– to submit to the Order
– to resist, at great cost to yourself
– defy all fairness and disrupt the Order

The GM keeps track of disruptions to the Order that accumulate during the game, which are added to the disruptions that the GM prepares as background for play (like town creation in Dogs). The number and type of disruptions then translate into horrible stuff that the GM does, not directly to the players, but to the human world as a whole, as nature and Heaven try to balance things out from humans messing everything up.

DISRUPTION EARTHLY SPIRITUAL
improper hearts weather animals
improper behaviors storms ghosts
improper family relations crop failure monsters
improper village relations destruction dragonborn
improper conduct of a region disasters dragons
improper rule of a kingdom omens suns die

INVOKING THE SPIRITS

To call on the spirits, you have to:
1. look like the spirit,
2. speak with the spirit’s voice, and
3. and act as the spirit would act.

Spirits can’t tell the difference between humans acting as spirits and spirits themselves, since they can’t distinguish between artifice and reality. So, over time, if humans pose as spirits, they can actually corrupt or change the spirit by acting on its behalf, because they think they are doing what the humans are having them do. This is also why humans make masks and statues of spirits, which they use to pretend to be the spirit or make offerings to the spirit.

Successfully invoking the spirits can be used to gain an advantage, until I figure out if it does anything else.

INVOKING PACTS

You can make pacts with spirits or powerful mortals to act on their behalf. In return for preforming some duty for them, in the course of that duty you can act as if you occupy their place in the Order’s hierarchy rather than your own. This is very useful since the characters start out as poor youth from rural turtle-farming families and the GM is likely to regularly invoke the Order all over them. However, if you are not holding up your part of the bargain, the GM and anyone else who knows you are a pactbreaker can invoke the pact against you to gain an advantage or invoke the Order (since pactbreakers are basically debtors, as far as the Order is concerned).

That’s it for now. Gonna try to put it all together more when I put it into layout, along with character creation, GM instructions, and the Level One adventure.

2 Responses to “Ghost Opera: Mechanics In Brief”

  1. Gregor Says:

    Jonathan, this is so incredibly awesome. I don’t really know why, but it’s blowing my mind. Thank you.


  2. Thanks, dude. I’ve been distracted by a couple of other things, but I really want to come back to this soon.


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